Freakwater Scheherazade Album Artwork
| BS 235


LP is LIMITED EDITION 180 GRAM VINYL; includes digital download



If you stop talking you’ll die. The storied namesake of the album, Scheherazade, told elaborate, interwoven tales of depth and pathos, because her life literally depended on it.

Full Description

If you stop talking you’ll die. The storied namesake of the album, Scheherazade, told elaborate, interwoven tales of depth and pathos, because her life literally depended on it. Freakwater's songs, like Scheherazade’s “A Thousand And One Nights,” are stories within stories, spinning into other stories, asking more than they answer. They lie between resignation and resolve, between desolate and luminous. There are unnamed protagonists, unknown destinations, unknowable resolutions. There are the mysteries of the living and the mysteries of the dead; they lay between resignation and resolve, between desolate and luminous. These stories are neither pretty nor not pretty, just honest, literate, and intensively inhabited by their narrators.

Anchored around the fragile and compelling harmonies of Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin and the subdued, oracular bass playing of Dave Gay, the utterly unique sound is distilled from many sources. There’s the elemental ache and loss in the soil and limestone of Kentucky, the songs and struggles that passed over and over the Atlantic from the British Isles centuries ago. There’s the energy and freedom in the ratty punk clubs of Louisville and Chicago at a time when rules and formalities were meant to be ignored. 

Scheherazade is Freakwater’s eighth album, and first in over 10 years. Like the heroine of The Arabian Nights, their longevity sometimes depends on leaving their audience hanging. It is a release of familiarity as much as it is one of change, one that is distinctly different, but never loses sight of what it is that makes them Freakwater.

In 2014, Irwin and Bean (along with longtime collaborator Jim Elkington) convened for a mini-tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Feels Like The Third Time. Inspired by a rekindled musical spark, the two wrote songs throughout that summer and in the fall got together for two months of rehearsing and six days of recording. Scheherazade was recorded and mixed at LaLa Land Studio in Louisville, Kentucky with Kevin Ratterman, My Morning Jacket’s longtime engineer. It was the first time in the band’s long career that they recorded an album outside of Chicago. The slower pace of Louisville – what Janet calls “the Kentucky crawl” – and an extended cast of talented local musicians proved perfect elements for developing their new songs. Freakwater’s amazing collaborators on Scheherazade include Ellkington (Tweedy, Horse’s Ha, Eleventh Dream Day) on pedal steel and mandola, Evan Patterson (Young Widows, Jaye Jayle) on electric guitars, Warren Ellis (Dirty Three, Nick Cave) on fiddle and alto flute, Sarah Balliet (Murder By Death) on cello, and Morgan Geer (Drunken Prayer) on electric guitar.

With its generations old deep harmonies and horrors, “What the People Want,” the album’s eerie opening track, captures  a preternatural ability to meld the alluring and the gruesome, the beauty in the murder ballad. Driven by banjo, Moog, and Ellis’s fiddle, the song recasts traditional narratives to include contemporary atrocities. The premiere single, “The Asp and the Albatross,” might lull the listener with its Laurel Canyon vibe, but further down the beach Cleopatra and the Ancient Mariner are swinging side by side sipping poison. “

Stretching themselves in the studio as never before, Freakwater provides longtime listeners with thrilling surprises. “Down Will Come Baby” is an uneasy lullaby fueled by Patterson’s wah-wah guitar and Catherine’s perfectly wacked banjo line. It’s soulful, psychedelic and exciting, more Haight than Holler… ”Velveteen Matador,” with its buoyant and bright guitars (think Dusty Springfield meets Buffalo Springfield, at the grooviest intersection of folk-rock and Memphis country-soul) is a cautionary tale of a darkness to come – in a card game or in life. 

New blood from a familiar vein. Scheherazade is here and ready to spin for a thousand and one nights.

Short Description
  • Every song on Scheherazade swings and rasps; you don't want them to stop, even as they cut you. Though Irwin and Bean will probably always be better known for their classic 90s material, this record may be their most perfect.

    — Chicago Reader's Best Chicago Albums of the 2010s
  • "A disc packed with gorgeous harmonies from Bean and Irwin, as well as their distinct blend of classic and contemporary country. Don't assume that they follow any musical formulas, though; Scheherazade is an extraordinary journey with surprises hidden around every corner."

    — The Boot
  • Longtime fans who have patiently waited for this resurgence will be thrilled with results that gently tug at the boundaries of their established sound. But even listeners new to the Freakwater experience can start here and work backwards through a rich catalog dedicated to the darker roots of Americana.

    — American Songwriter
  • Scheherazade will be right with you on one of those nights when the weather’s bad, you don’t wanna leave the house and no one else is home.

    — Daggerzine
  • Scheherazade is an extraordinary journey with surprises hidden around every corner.

    — The Boot
  • The music and, above all, the voices of the two singers fight through the darkness. The voices complement, converse and contradict, like sisters finishing or amplifying each other's sentences. The Irwin-Bean interplay, built up over decades of friendship, has rarely been more acute or varied.

    — Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
  • There’s something invigorating about hearing two alt-country veterans take apart their tried-and-true sound and reassemble it slightly askew, andScheherazade is not only their most modern-sounding record; it might be their best since Old Paint.

    — Pitchfork
  • Freakwater leave no doubt they're still living in the same fallen world that's always been their home, and they evoke a difficult past and a similarly blighted present while facing it all with the quirky grin of a confirmed cynic.

    — Allmusic
  • Scheherazade is Freakwater's first studio album in a decade, and they've never been better. Bean, Irwin and bassist David Wayne Gay are joined by band newbie Jim Elkington, and have made a magnetic song cycle worthy of its title.

    — Exclaim
  • Make no mistake, Freakwater can still deliver some very dark Appalachian music that shakes the soul – but that is what you want. This is an album for your woes, your heartbreak and your desperation.

    — The Firenote
  • It’s their most cinematic album yet, with the music functioning almost as a soundtrack to Irwin and Bean’s short, violent songs… Scheherazade is not only their most modern-sounding record; it might be their best since Old Paint.

    — Pitchfork
  • Dark storytelling married with soulful, rootsy arrangements they’ve been honing since they first formed in the late ‘80s.

    — The Wall Street Journal
  • Freakwater’s return ends not with an exclamation point but with confident resonance hopefully foreshadowing a higher frequency of activity for this frankly irreplaceable group.

    — The Vinyl District
  • Yes, songs like "Skinny Knee Bone" and "Memory Vendor" are as lovely as anything Emmylou sang in her early years; but listen closely to "Take Me With You" and "Velveteen Matador' you will find lyrics darker than the pits of Hades on a rainy day…When you find yourself getting lost in those glorious harmonies it’s easy to miss some razor sharp guitar and fiddle playing throughout.

    — Rocking Magpie
  • Both haunting and alluring...Scheherazade is diverse in style but consistent in talent.

    — Slug Magazine
  • Haunted songs rooted in old-time country, Southern Gothic and humming electric ambience...their raw voices lending a suitably un-pretty air to songs that tap into murder-ballad tradition and the mystical realm of Celtic folk.


    — Uncut UK
  • Freakwater still rules, 30 years later.

    — The Fader
  • It’s a formidable return from the Eleventh Dream Day and Califone affiliates, bathed in folkish guitars and light vocals to emanate a warm and homey sound.

    — Stereogum

Track List

  1. What the People Want
  2. The Asp and the Albatross
  3. Bolshevik and Bollweevil
  4. Down Will Come Baby
  5. Falls of Sleep
  6. Take Me with You
  7. Velveteen Matador
  8. Skinny Knee Bone
  9. Number One with a Bullet
  10. Memory Vendor
  11. Missionfield
  12. Ghost Song



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